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COMDEX/SPRING REPORT

The hows and whys of AT&T, Olivetti, de Benedetti and Cassoni dominate the gossip There’s a lot more chit-chat here on the Comdex floor about the brouhaha between Olivetti and AT&T than there is about any new product announcements being made, writes Maureen O’Gara from Atlanta. The stories retailed by AT&T and Sun folks and their sundry hangers-on consistently point to Vittorio Cassoni as the author of the whole idea of AT&T upping its stake in Olivetti, the guy who wanted it to happen long before the opportunity arose. The gossips say Cassoni sold Carlo de Benedetti on the idea when he began needing cash for the Socie’te’ Ge’ne’rale de Belgique bid (which as you might expect is poorly understood here) and they in turn went to AT&T and sold them on the idea and walked away with a handshake deal. AT&T is blamed for reneging on the deal after heated words about AT&T’s Sun involvement and about how many 3Bs have been sold in Europe and how many Olivetti PCs have been sold in America. But these are classified more as recriminations than the real reason the deal went sour and that’s what they all want to know. Hence the gossip. Reporters complain Cassoni wasn’t straight with them and denied he was leaving AT&T up to the time the announcement was made. AT&T insiders say his departure was unexpected and interpret it as one of de Benedetti’s little ways of punishing AT&T for its backsliding. Some of the sting in the punishment derives from the fact that not six weeks ago AT&T’s PR people had had Cassoni touted in practically every business publication in America including dailies like US News as the saviour of the AT&T computer strategy. Despite his imminent departure next week Cassoni gave the Comdex keynote speech in which he reiterated for the last time the AT&T party line about Unix and Open Systems.

Dolch shows select few the first 386 luggable with quality plasma EGA screen The first sighting of a plasma/EGA was made this week at Comdex. The innovation came from Dolch Computer Systems, the start-up portable PC division of the highly respected instrumentation firm Dolch American Instruments, which says it developed it itself back home in San Jose. Dolch didn’t bother taking a booth at Comdex but had its sales and marketing man Lee Adams and chairman and founder Volker Dolch trotting around the floor showing off the breakthrough to the elect. The sexy little screen on the Dolch lunchbox-style 20 lb luggable produces red characters – 25 by 80 – on a black background – 640 by 400 pixel resolution making it more legible than a Supertwist or the traditional black on amber plasma displays. Dolch also claims to be the first company to add RAM cacheing capabilities to an 80386 portable. Dolch says benchmarks on the systems, it’s fitted with a 64Kb RAM-cached 20MHz 386 mother board, results in performance at 4.7 MIPS versus the 3.2 MIPS gotten from a standard IBM PS/2 Model 80. Both features are available as options with the EGA/plasma screen priced at $2,500 and RAM caching at $100. Taking the lead from its parent company Dolch is selling largely into the scientific/engineering community through value added resellers as well as a direct sales force to the Fortune 500.

Best of the rest – so far Despite IBM touting 50 OS/2 applications running on its stand, few are generating much excitement, but one that does look to be of more than average interest comes from Robertshaw Controls Inc of Richmond, Virginia, which is showing a building environment control system that takes advantage of the multitasking capabilities of OS/2. Air volume, humidity and temperature control devices are connected to an IBM PS/2 via the serial ports or via a special 100Kbps adaptor card interface, and with the control software running under OS/2, the operator can simultaneously monitor all environmental conditions throughout the building, and adjust them from the keyboard. The building control system, in C and Pascal, originally ran on a minicomputer. Meantime IBM Entry Systems chief Bill Lowe and Microsoft’s Bill Gates hosted a get-together for the press

at which Lowe explained what he had really meant when he said that IBM’s PS/2 prices would drop 22% a year. He now says he meant that the price points will remain about the same as they are now, but that performance will be enhanced because you will get a 286 machine where you get an 8086 one now, a 386 box where you now get 286s. Gates stressed Microsoft determination to ship Presentation Manager by October, and said that a developer’s kit for the promised version of OS/2 to support the Virtual 86 mode of the 80386 will be available next year. He also claimed that only a minor enhancement to OS/2 would be required to implement 32-bit segments, so OS/2 would be fine for future Intel 32-bit architectures. But still those MS-DOS applications keep coming, and Palantir Inc is pretty proud of its WinText 1.0 for MS-DOS micros. It reckons that the product is the first full-featured word processing software to run under Microsoft Windows, thus allowing editing of up to four documents at once (editing one at a time seems quite hard enough on Computergram). It also allows integration of graphics and text, and is claimed to offer true WYSIWYG text displays. But Palantir is hoping that OS/2 takes off, because it has designed WinText to take advantage of the graphical capabilities of Presentation Manager. All new Palantir products will have a migration path directly to Presentation Manager, the company says. It needs a 512Kb Windows-compatible system and is out now at $350. Giving the last word to AT&T Data’s Robert Kavner, he was bravely asserting at a Comdex conference that AT&T’s relationship with OLivetti would be strengthened by Cassoni’s return to Olivetti (sounds like a back-handed compliment) and that there is no substance to all those rumours that divorce lawyers are being briefed to put an end to the marriage.

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